At least 130 killed, including 5 U.S. soldiers, in Iraq |

At least 130 killed, including 5 U.S. soldiers, in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Suicide bombers infiltrated a line of police recruits and a crowd of Shiite pilgrims Thursday as insurgents killed 125 civilians and five U.S. soldiers, escalating attacks while political factions worked to forge a coalition government.The stark surge in post-election violence produced familiar but heartrending images on a day that was the fourth deadliest since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.A woman and an infant girl in a bright red jumpsuit lay in a pool of blood, their faces covered by a sheet as men ferried the wounded in pushcarts in Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad. Ball bearings lay scattered on the bare earth next to Shiite Islam’s holiest shrine in Iraq.After the devastating attack in Ramadi, a Sunni insurgent stronghold 70 miles west of the capital, police recruits got back in line to continue the screening process, said Marine Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool. They were apparently desperate for a relatively well-paying job in the impoverished area.Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, denounced the violence as an attempt to derail the political process at a time when progress was being made toward a broad-based government that would include the Sunni Arabs and thus possibly weaken the insurgency.With the two-day death toll from attacks reaching 183, Iraq’s main Shiite religious party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, issued a veiled threat to Sunnis supporting the insurgency that its patience was wearing thin.But in a chord struck by several politicians Thursday, the party also condemned policies it said were imposed by the U.S.-led coalition that were hampering Iraqi security forces’ counterterrorism work. The Americans have increased their oversight of Shiite-dominated security forces following widespread charges of abuse, especially of Sunni Arab detainees.”Not allowing these two ministries to do their job means exposing helpless Iraqis to ruthless terrorists,” SCIRI said. “They should know that the patience of our people will not last for a long time with these sectarian dirty crimes.”The warning to Sunnis carried the possibility of using militias like the Badr Brigade, the former military wing of SCIRI, to exact vengeance against Sunni supporters of insurgents.Hadi al-A’meri, the secretary general of the Badr Brigade, also blamed the attacks on the U.S.-led coalition. “Why are they putting obstacles in the way of the work of the Interior Ministry?” he asked.The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said it was appalled by the attacks. “This terror aims simply to kill innocent Iraqis and provoke further conflict between them,” the embassy said.The Iraqi Accordance Front, the main Sunni coalition that is negotiating with Shiites and Kurds over a coalition government after the Dec. 15 election, denounced the violence but blamed Iraq’s leaders for allowing it to happen.”This government has not only failed to end violence, but it has become an accomplice in the cycle of violence by adopting sectarian policies and by weakening the state and strengthening militia groups,” said Izzat al-Shahbandar, a senior official with the Sunni coalition.The three main attacks Thursday all took place within an hour’s time. The death toll – the largest single-day total since Sept. 14, when 162 died – included five American soldiers killed by a roadside bomb.The American convoy was south of Karbala when it was attacked about 10 a.m., though it had been conducting a mission unrelated to the suicide attack in the Shiite holy city, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said. At least 2,188 members of the U.S. military have died since the war began, according to an Associated Press count.Only 15 minutes after the attack on the convoy, a suicide bomber wearing a vest packed with ball bearings detonated his explosives on a busy pedestrian path about 100 feet from the Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala. The attack killed 63 and wounded 120, Karbala police spokesman Rahman Meshawi said.Mohammed Saheb, who was wounded in the head, said he travels to the shrine every Thursday in advance of Friday prayers – as many pilgrims do.”I never thought that such a crime could happen near this holy site,” Saheb said. “The terrorists spare no place from their ugly deeds. This is a criminal act against faithful pilgrims. The terrorists are targeting the Shiites.”A toy vendor said he lost consciousness after the blast.”I was selling toys near the shrine when I flew into the air because of the explosion,” Akram Saleh said from a hospital bed, where he was being treated for burns and bruises.The Karbala bomber detonated a vest stuffed with about 18 pounds of explosives and several hand grenades, Col. Razaq al-Taie said. At least five Iranians were among the dead, Meshawi said.The bombing brought back memories of the deadliest civilian attack in Iraq since the war began. On March 2, 2004, coordinated blasts from suicide bombers, mortars and planted explosives exploded near shrines in Karbala and Baghdad, killing at least 181 people. Since then, however, Karbala had been relatively free of violence.There apparently had been warnings of another attack.A would-be suicide car bomber arrested on Tuesday before he could explode his vehicle told Karbala police a number of suicide bombers were in the city, said a police commander who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media. He refused to say if any others had been arrested.Karbala’s governor, Aqeel al-Khazraji, blamed “takfiris and Saddamists” for the attack. The takfiri ideology is followed by extremist Sunnis bent on killing anyone they consider an infidel, even fellow Muslims.The attack in Ramadi came 40 minutes later, when a bomber standing among some 1,000 police recruits struck near the Ramadi Glass and Ceramics Works. Mohammed al-Ani, a doctor at Ramadi General Hospital, said 56 people were killed and 60 wounded.In other violence Thursday, a suicide car bomb killed three Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad, Lt. Col. Thamir al-Gharawi said, and gunmen killed three people in separate incidents, police said, raising Thursday’s toll to 130.On Wednesday, 53 people died in attacks, including 32 killed by a suicide bomber at a Shiite funeral.Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism